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Wrapping it up

By Nimish Dubey
(nimish@enableall.org)


The clocks in Lahore might have edging closer to the midnight hour on Wednesday night, but for Indian cricket it was high noon. This was India’s first ever ODI series victory in Pakistan. And it was neither fluky nor fixed - India had comprehensively outplayed its once-dominant neighbour in the final two matches of the series and more than matched it in the preceding ones.

Naturally the rosy glow of victory has led to a slew of over-the-top statements. Almost everyone has been hailing the ‘new’ India (conveniently forgetting that most of the squad have been around for years now), a few people have called this India’s greatest win since the 1983 World Cup, and some seem confident that the win signals a new era in cricket in which the Indian team will be a dominant force. In passing, it seems interesting how most experts seem to herald new eras only when their own teams look likely to dominate. But that is another matter to be discussed at another time!

For the moment, we would do well to forget the hype, cut out the adjectives and take a cold, hard look at the series and what it means to the two teams.

Forget the thrills, it was low-quality fare

While the series did produce nail-biting cricket, it is difficult to escape the fact that the cricket itself was not of the highest quality. Good cricket is equated with good batting and bowling complemented with excellent fielding. While this series did feature some decent batting, the quality of bowling and fielding left a lot to be desired. And it is no point blaming ‘lifeless’ pitches for their poor performance; most of the bowlers grew up bowling on similar surfaces!

The much-hyped Pakistan bowling attack was perhaps the biggest disappointment of the series. Barring one spell from Shabbir Ahmed at Peshawar, the Pakistani bowlers never seemed sure of themselves and often seemed to harbour the illusion that the stumps were in fact placed a few yards to the right or left of their actual position – how else does one explain so many wides? They also served up no-balls in wholesale quantities. Spinner Shoaib Malik was far too defensive and was equally generous in the no-ball and wides sector.  In retrospect, Pakistan erred hugely by depending on the same bowlers throughout the series.

But that is not to say that the Indian bowlers were any better. While Indian supporters will point to the brilliant performance of Irfan Pathan (the bowler of the series, in my humble opinion), the fact is that he did not feature in the Indian team’s plans for the series. He was dropped from the first two matches and came in only when Ashish Nehra was injured. Nehra bowled well at Rawalpindi and held his nerve in the final over at Karachi, but the rest of the bowlers were frankly appalling. Zaheer Khan continues to have this fixation with glaring at the batsmen and attempting to break high jump records with his bowling leap, Balaji is of little use once the ball loses its sheen and while Kartik had his moments, I am not too sure whether he is the solution to India’s slow bowling problems. You will notice I do not even mention India’s part-time bowlers. That is because they are not worthy of it!

Complementing the poor bowling was some truly horrendous fielding on both sides. While there was the odd exceptional catch, most of the ground fielding was substandard and in India’s case, the wicket-keeping was right out of some third-rate horror movie. Rahul Dravid may give the team an extra batting option, but he remains an exceptionally poor wicket-keeper who sooner or later is going to cost his team a match or two.

And if you are planning to make a case for the high quality of batting in the series, I would advise you to forget it. With the bowling and fielding being so poor in general, the only surprise is that more runs were not scored.

India: Some gains, some pains

In balance, the Indian team gained far more from the series than its opponents. For one, a win always helps in clocking up important psychological points and the Indian team must have picked up a sackful of those. The batting was inconsistent, but came good when most needed. The bowlers responded well to pressure at most times. Even the fielders seemed to lift their game a notch or two when it counted most – witness Kaif and Tendulkar at Lahore. Ramesh Powar emerged as a viable all-rounder and Kartik bowled reasonably well. Most importantly, India seemed to have a captain who knew what he was doing.

But that is not to say that there is no cause for worry in the Indian ranks. The bowling, fielding and wicket-keeping remain problem areas. And while Sourav Ganguly is a better captain than Inzamam-ul-Haq, his tendency to play favourites is not a healthy one for the team. Pathan must have been bewildered at missing out the first two matches and Powar equally mystified at missing out the last two.

Even the famous batting did not do too well. Tendulkar, Sehwag and Laxman each played a good innings, but did little else besides. Ganguly looked out of sorts right through the series, and Yuvraj and Kaif restricted themselves to a half-century each. Dravid was the only consistent performer. That is not the kind of performance one expects from what we kept being told is the best batting line-up in world cricket.

Pakistan: Pains galore and there could be more

But India’s problems seem to be minor compared to those faced by its neighbour. Pakistan will go into the Test series knowing that anything less than a victory will result in heads rolling. And if their form in the ODI series is an indication, a Test series victory is a bit unlikely.

A lack of basic discipline is the biggest problem in the Pakistani team. The bowlers simply did not seem to have any strategy and seemed to be under the impression that any delivery bowled above ninety miles an hour would pick up a wicket. The batting, barring Inzamam-ul-Haq, seemed to be clueless about its role, playing extravagant strokes when none were needed. Yasir Hameed was the only batsman who tried to support his captain in the batting department. And it is with the captain that most of the team’s problems lie. While there is no denying the talent in the Pakistani ranks, there is also no denying that the team seems to be sublimely rudderless at best.

Inzamam might have batted brilliantly in the series, but his captaincy was frankly appalling. His tendency to make weird choices often threw away the advantage gained by winning the toss. Experts are still trying to figure why he fielded first in the final match when it was clear that the pressure would very much be on the team batting second, never mind what happened in the earlier matches. He also seemed more than a little predictable, using the same bowlers again and again and not daring to experiment. The bowlers were the team’s Achilles heel, but he kept the same combination going even when the Indian batsmen seemed to have worked them out. Surely Razzaq could have been entrusted the new ball, given his record against Tendulkar? Inzamam also seemed loath to changing the batting order and when one considers that most of the batsmen underperformed, this might have been a mistake. 

Testing times

India go into the Test series firm favourites, given the disarray in the Pakistani ranks.  The team is more experienced and the inclusion of Kumble and Agarkar is only going to add to its strength. Pakistan on the other hand have a host of problems to reckon with. Their batting was never the best, but the poor show put up by the bowlers does not bode well for the Test series. It is no point trying to say that Test matches are a different game. When a team’s bowlers are not doing well, they are unlikely to turn over a new leaf only because the match is to played over five days and the players are wearing white. It remains to be seen whether the Pakistani selectors will have the courage to ring in wholesale changes that would wake the team out of its slumber.

India have created history by winning an ODI series in Pakistan for the first time. They could well be celebrating their first-ever Test in Pakistan in the days to come.

Do you agree with our Pundit’s conclusions or do you think he’s missing a trick (or a few marbles)? In either case, feel free to mail him at nimish@enableall.org






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